Side Eyes All Around

Emotions: Showing Surprise

writeworld:

flieswithninjas asked: I feel like I’m using the phrase “widening eyes” or any variation of it too much. Are there other ways that are just eluding me?

Let’s just start by saying thatSurprise!—emotions are complicated and not everyone feels them or exhibits them in the same way. There are, however, more ways to exhibit surprise than the old stand-by of widening eyes.

What is surprise?

Surprise (n): A feeling of astonishment or shock caused by something unexpected.

Other things to note about surprise:

  • It’s one of seven universal expressions of emotion (the other six are disgust, sadness, joy, contempt, anger, and fear).
  • It is a neutral expression, meaning that it displays neither positive nor negative attributes. The measurement of these attributes as positive or negative is known as an emotion’s valence.
  • It’s evolutionary, physical purpose seems to be to take in as much information as possible in as short a time as possible.

Keep in mind as you write that the intensity of the surprise and the emotions that follow a character’s initial surprised reaction are situational and extremely personal to the character, though there are a few general things to remember about surprise:

  1. It is brief. While everyone is going to react differently to a given situation, one thing on which we can all agree is that true surprise is a short-lived emotion. Unlike emotions like anticipation or awe, which might be significantly prolonged, surprise is practically a blip on the radar. Bear this in mind as you write: Whatever physical signs of surprise your character exhibits, they will only have that particular physical expression of emotion for a moment.
  2. Surprise segues into other emotions within seconds. Surprise is a gateway emotion. It doesn’t stick around long, so it’s almost instantly replaced with the reaction emotion, which might actually be the more important emotion of the two. It is important to register the surprise of a character, but it may also be vital for the reader to know what that surprise becomes because it will likely color the character’s surprise. For example, if a character is surprised then angry, that anger is probably more important to spend time describing than the surprise.
  3. Hiding surprise is not an option. You’re right to want to display surprise physically; it is one of several emotions that are nigh impossible to conceal. A few common physical signs of surprise:
    • Eyebrows up and curved
    • Upper eyelids raise to open our eyes wider
    • Quick breath (not always)
    • Open mouth; jaw drops (not always)
    • Horizontal wrinkles appear on forehead
  4. If it’s prolonged surprise, it’s shock. Shock, also known as acute stress reaction, is a different animal altogether. There are not common facial expressions for shock, though certainly the stereotype is a blank, expressionless face. A character in shock may seem as though he or she is in a daze, unable to react quickly or see (sometimes physically) the situation clearly. Accelerated heart rate, sweating, nausea, and flushing are also common in sufferers of shock. These symptoms are not present in the expression of surprise, but may become present soon after where surprise has segued into shock. Like in the common saying goes, “After the initial surprise, shock sets in”.
  5. Surprised and startled are two different things. To be startled is to have an instinctual, fearful reaction to external stimuli.
    “Most psychologists consider startle to be different from any human emotions, more like a reflex to intense sudden stimulation. The startle expression is unique.” (x)
    Since feeling startled involves fear and fear is a separate emotion from surprise, your character will likely have slightly different physical expressions of their emotion. A startled character will likely cringe, flinch, or go into a crouch. This cringe is just as instinctive as the hallmarks of surprise, but it is not indicative of surprise. A startled reaction is its own special thing.

So, how can you vary your description of surprise? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Try using the other well-known facial cues besides widened eyes. Open mouth, dropped jaw, and sharp intake of breath are nothing to shake a stick at, but “wrinkles of surprise appeared on her forehead” has a certain magic to it, don’t you think? No one talks about wrinkles.
  2. Surprise may not be limited to the face. There are other body parts that might be busy showing the character’s surprise. What if your character dropped whatever he was holding or missed her mouth with her spoonful of hot soup? What if your character’s knees locked? What if his fists tightened or she jumped back from whatever surprised her? Try expanding your search for physical reaction to the rest of the body for variety.
  3. Do it with dialogue, onomatopoeia, or other noises. Instead of talking about widening eyes, get your characters to talk for you. Have them express their surprise through cursing or various euphemisms. This sort of reaction will likely come during the time the character is transitioning from surprise to their reaction emotion, which is why we have such a huge variety of ways to express our surprise through words. From “oh my lanta!” to “ACK!” to “bloody hell!”, a character’s surprise might be best exhibited via dialogue. If it’s onomatopoeia you’re going for, what sound does he or she make? Maybe your character always yelps in surprise, or squeaks or barks or gasps dramatically. Don’t discount the occasional noise in lieu of dialogue if the situation warrants it.
  4. Do it with quirks. Maybe your character always hiccups in surprise or cracks her toes or clasps his hands. Does he pale? Does she get goosebumps? If your character always does these things when he or she is surprised, you may be looking at a quirk. This quirk is sort of a trademark of the character, and when you describe it in association with an emotion, the reader will come to understand without having to be told outright every time that when the character starts hiccuping or blanches, he or she has just been surprised.

The best way by far to learn to describe an emotion is to research it thoroughly. With that in mind, check out these awesome resources to learn more about surprise:

Thank you for your question! If you have anything to add to this article or a question of your own, please visit our ask box!

-C

(via gamesandthrones)

youvegotaluckyface:

The Pythons in Canada, 1972

(via theanyanka)

angelclark:

99-Year-Old Lady Sews A Dress A Day For Children In Need 

Lillian Weber, a 99-year-old good Samaritan from Iowa, has spent the last few years sewing a dress a day for the Little Dresses For Africa charity, a Christian organization that distributes dresses to children in need in Africa and elsewhere.

Weber’s goal is to make 1,000 dresses by the time she turns 100 on May 6th. So far, she’s made more than 840. Though she says she could make two a day, she only makes one – but each single dress she makes per day is personalized with careful stitchwork. She hopes that each little girl who receives her dress can take pride in her new garment.

(via thefrogman)

keelah-kawaii:

leonmcgann:

getting annoyed after illegally downloading music when it turns out to be bad quality

(Source: toocooltobehipster, via megustamemes)

madlori:

jmathieson-fic:

mumblingsage:

decodethefallenmoon:

molokoko:

amazing

“Just so everyone is aware, there is a bunch of misleading info being spread around re: ALS research - the “27%” figure is based on previous years’ annual funding; furthermore, the remainder goes to improving the quality of life of those suffering from ALS. Given that the annual funding is approximately 16M, that’s just over 4M spent on decreasing their suffering. It isn’t greed, it’s a lack of money.”Shut up already.

The ALS Association has a 4-star rating from Charity Watchdog. 
And the next time you start to complain about a charity either a) working on multiple fronts (because that’s what ALSA does—both seeking a cure and helping people suffering now) or b) daring to have administration expenses—let’s see how long you can last, much less tackle a cause, without printer paper and an internet connection. 

As someone who has watched a family member die from a neuro-degenerative disease; funding to develop better wheelchairs and bedsore creams is *just* as important as funding research to cure the disease itself…

A friend of mine posted an update from one of HER friends to FB earlier.  Her dad has ALS.  The ALS foundation came out to see if they could put in a ramp for his wheelchair, but they couldn’t afford it because of the kind of ramp he needed for the kind of house they had.
This week they called back and said hey, the thing is, we suddenly have a bunch of money, so we’re coming out to build that ramp.  And they did.  She posted pics.
So if you feel like bitching about the ice bucket challenge…reconsider.

madlori:

jmathieson-fic:

mumblingsage:

decodethefallenmoon:

molokoko:

amazing

Just so everyone is aware, there is a bunch of misleading info being spread around re: ALS research - the “27%” figure is based on previous years’ annual funding; furthermore, the remainder goes to improving the quality of life of those suffering from ALS. Given that the annual funding is approximately 16M, that’s just over 4M spent on decreasing their suffering. It isn’t greed, it’s a lack of money.”

Shut up already.

The ALS Association has a 4-star rating from Charity Watchdog. 

And the next time you start to complain about a charity either a) working on multiple fronts (because that’s what ALSA does—both seeking a cure and helping people suffering now) or b) daring to have administration expenses—let’s see how long you can last, much less tackle a cause, without printer paper and an internet connection. 

As someone who has watched a family member die from a neuro-degenerative disease; funding to develop better wheelchairs and bedsore creams is *just* as important as funding research to cure the disease itself…

A friend of mine posted an update from one of HER friends to FB earlier.  Her dad has ALS.  The ALS foundation came out to see if they could put in a ramp for his wheelchair, but they couldn’t afford it because of the kind of ramp he needed for the kind of house they had.

This week they called back and said hey, the thing is, we suddenly have a bunch of money, so we’re coming out to build that ramp.  And they did.  She posted pics.

So if you feel like bitching about the ice bucket challenge…reconsider.

(via thevelosarahptor)

oh-schnap:

151 people don’t get the joke and just really hate the homeless

oh-schnap:

151 people don’t get the joke and just really hate the homeless

(Source: wolfchasing, via courtneyrs)

vegetugh:

57fandom59:

mondovegebul:

thetaintedheartofvegeta:

alexialopes9:

Yesss exactly

FUCK YEAH

OH GOD I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THIS WAY. But yes.

LAMO YUP

SAME

vegetugh:

57fandom59:

mondovegebul:

thetaintedheartofvegeta:

alexialopes9:

Yesss exactly

FUCK YEAH

OH GOD I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THIS WAY. But yes.

LAMO YUP

SAME

(Source: vegetas-saiyan-princess, via vaneille)

redeaddie:

cosplayisnotconsent:

A great comic telling people to stand up for their fellow fans!

You want to know how terrible that these douche bags can get? I made a Sailor Venus cosplay for my younger sister who looked amazing and proud to wear it. I made sure she wore white shorts that covered her panties and stopped where the skirt ended, (because of the horror stories we heard about perverts taking pictures up cosplayers’ skirts without consent) Turns out there were jerks trying to take pics up her skirt, but started to complain to each other that she was wearing shorts under and it wasn’t fair. SHE WAS UNDERAGE AT THE TIME OF WEARING THIS COSPLAY! Not only were they attempting sexual harassment, but ON A MINOR! Please, reblog this, spread the word, and stand up for other cosplayers if you see/hear this.

redeaddie:

cosplayisnotconsent:

A great comic telling people to stand up for their fellow fans!

You want to know how terrible that these douche bags can get? I made a Sailor Venus cosplay for my younger sister who looked amazing and proud to wear it. I made sure she wore white shorts that covered her panties and stopped where the skirt ended, (because of the horror stories we heard about perverts taking pictures up cosplayers’ skirts without consent) Turns out there were jerks trying to take pics up her skirt, but started to complain to each other that she was wearing shorts under and it wasn’t fair. SHE WAS UNDERAGE AT THE TIME OF WEARING THIS COSPLAY! Not only were they attempting sexual harassment, but ON A MINOR! Please, reblog this, spread the word, and stand up for other cosplayers if you see/hear this.

(via whisperingreengrass)

thefuuuucomics:

huffingtonpost:

THESE 16 DOGS ARE HEROES. THEY ARE ALSO PIT BULLS.

Virtually every dog relishes a loving scratch behind the ears and some sweet, vocal praise. But dogs identified as pit bulls get a bad reputation and a lot less love.

Try not to cry as you read the full stories behind these heroic pit bulls here. 

Perfect

(via whisperingreengrass)